I never thought I’d have to come to China for a breath of fresh air. But that is exactly what I got last week by travelling to the China-Myanmar border area to visit Chinese village schools with the leaders of Teach for All, the network of 32 countries that have adopted the Teach for America model of recruiting highly motivated college graduates to work in their country’s most underprivileged schools. What was so refreshing about spending four days with leaders of Teach for Lebanon, Teach for China, Teach for India and all the others was the fact that, since 9/11, I’ve spent so much time writing about people who are breaking things and so little time covering people who are making things. This was a week with the makers.
Indeed, I could not help but remark to Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America and CEO of Teach for All, that Teach for All is “the anti-Al Qaeda.” It is a loose global network of locally run teams of teachers, who share best practices and target young people in support of a single goal. But while Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to inspire and enable young people to be breakers, Teach for All tries to inspire and enable them to be makers. Yes, plenty of terrorists are also well educated, but their ability to resonate and enlist followers diminishes the more people around them have the tools to realise their full potential.
Groups like Teach for China, which hosted the Teach for All network at
village schools here, are too new to determine whether they can make a difference in helping their lowest-performing schools succeed. But if raw idealism and willingness to take up the hardest challenges count for anything, you have to be hopeful. Travelling here last week was like spending four days with 32 Malala Yousafzais from 32 different nations.
Lu Li, 23, who graduated from the University of South Carolina in May, returned home to teach math as a Teach for China fellow here. It was not easy, she said: “My parents could not understand the choice I